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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Elder Justice Act. I applaud the leadership and commitment that Senator Hatch and Senator Lincoln have shown to protecting our Nation's senior citizens by reintroducing this legislation. As Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging, I am pleased to join Senator Smith, our Chairman, as an original cosponsor of this important bill.

I also want to commend the bipartisan Elder Justice Coalition for its role in developing and moving this bill forward. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Wisconsin members of the Coalition, including the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, the Wisconsin Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long Term Care, among many others. Passage of the Elder Justice Act is long overdue, and we look forward to working with the Coalition to ensure that it becomes law as soon as possible.

In the past forty years, our Nation has made great strides to address the ugly truth of child abuse and domestic violence in our society. We have made a difference by making comprehensive legislation designed to combat these terrible issues a top priority. Today, I ask the Congress to once again focus on the issue of abuse only this time, to focus on the grim reality of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

For the past 25 years, Congress has held hearings on the devastating effects of elder abuse; yet no comprehensive action has been taken. Abuse of the elderly is certainly nothing new, but as our Nation has aged and the Baby Boom generation stands on the cusp of retirement, the prevalence of elder abuse will only get worse. The time to act is now. The shame and scandal of abuse, neglect and exploitation of our Nation's seniors can no longer be ignored or tolerated.

I am pleased that the Elder Justice Act includes one of my top priorities--a provision mandating a national criminal background check system for nursing home, home health and other long-term care employees. While the vast majority of employees are hardworking, dedicated and professional, it is simply too easy for people with abusive and criminal backgrounds to find work in long term care.

Today, seven States, including my home State of Wisconsin, are engaged in a pilot project to require FBI criminal background checks before hiring a new employee. The Elder Justice Act will ensure that once the pilot is over, we will move to a national criminal background check system so seniors in all fifty states will be protected. I want to thank Senators HATCH and LINCOLN and their staff for working with me to once again include this provision as a key part of the Elder Justice Act. I very much appreciate their efforts and look forward to working with them to see that it becomes law.

In addition to the background check provision, the Elder Justice Act takes a number of steps to prevent and treat elder abuse. First, it will improve prevention and intervention by funding State and local projects that keep older Americans safe.

Second, it will improve collaboration by bringing together a variety of different Federal, State, local, and private entities to address elder abuse. The bill ensures that health officials, social services, law enforcement, long-term care facilities, consumer advocates and families are all working together to confront this problem.

Third, it will develop expertise to better detect elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, by training health professionals in both forensic pathology and geriatrics.

Fourth, it will develop victim assistance programs for at-risk seniors and create ``safe havens'' for seniors who are not safe where they live.

Finally, it will give extra resources to law enforcement officials to investigate cases of elder abuse and make them a top priority.

Once again, I thank Senators HATCH and LINCOLN for bringing the issue of elder abuse to the forefront by re-introducing this important legislation. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting it.

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